LONDON — So much of Saturday’s fight was about starting a new chapter for former heavyweight unified champion Anthony Joshua.
It had been eight months since the British heavyweight — once upon a time so clean cut and untouchable — gave an embarrassing speech in the ring in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, unable to control his emotions and looking like a broken soul following his second straight defeat to Oleksandr Usyk. This fight against Jermaine Franklin, therefore, was about resurrection — a chance to rebuild his image and, more importantly, get back in the win column.
In short, that is exactly what he achieved with a unanimous decision win, although not in the style he would have wanted.
Back at London’s O2 Arena, Joshua enjoyed old comforts. This arena was where he made his pro debut and the stage when he won his first world title. His last bout here was a seventh-round TKO win against Dominic Brezeale in 2016, just two fights before his career took a quantum leap with the blockbuster win over Wladimir Klitschko. Tonight he also was without the pressure of a world title on the line, a fact he said in the build-up had been a weight off his large shoulders.
Joshua had said before the fight that winning was the only thing that mattered, but that isn’t quite true. He needed a statement victory, like the fight-five streak he enjoyed at the O2 years ago when three times he scored a knockout inside two rounds.
Joshua’s trademark during those hungry years had become his devastating straight right, and at the heaviest weight of his career (255.4 pounds) it was expected he would look to inflict damage on Saturday. That didn’t happen. Even his promoter, Eddie Hearn, admitted Joshua was “solid but not spectacular.”
He did not rock Franklin with any major power punches, nor did he look comfortable like someone who is a step above their opponent should. Credit must go to Franklin for his role in keeping Joshua out of his comfort zone as well.
“Last time I had the mic it was a bit chaotic, but now I’m calm,” Joshua opened his post-fight interview, referring to his comments after the Usyk rematch.
“Franklin done well,” Joshua added. “I respect him for that… [His team] was prepared for the fight. I should have knocked him out, but what can I say? Now it’s done on to the next.”
Saturday’s fight was also his first non-PPV fight in the UK in over seven years and at the end of the fight, Joshua failed to answer many questions about his chances against the top fighters in the division.
Joshua ended his in-ring speech by calling out his British counterpart, Fury, with whom he engaged in talks for a fight in December but fell apart. He said he would be “honored” to fight for Fury’s WBC world title, and that the “ball is in [Fury’s] court.”
But is that the best option for his next fight?
Hearn was less assertive, and he is probably right. He said it was more sensible to keep working with new trainer Derrick James and instead seek a fight with Dillion Whyte.
“AJ’s answer is 100% [to fight Fury.] He would have taken that fight in December but it wasn’t the right time to do it. And Derrick James is 100% right, we should give him more time.”